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400 Miles in a 40th Anniversary Toyota 4Runner

2023 toyota 4runner 40th anniversary edition
400 Miles in a 40th Anniversary Toyota 4RunnerMark Vaughn
  • Toyota's ancient 4Runner has been on the market for 40 years. The fifth-gen model you see here has been around since 2009.

  • Toyota is celebrating the anniversary with a trim package added to the SRT Premium model called the 40th Anniversary Edition.

  • We took it on a 1000-or-so-mile trip that included a little snow.


The choices were as long as the drive. I needed something to haul a family of four-minus-one from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles to the snowy heights of Utah, a distance of 469 miles. As anyone who has read a car magazine or driven on a street in the last 25 years knows, there are plenty of SUVs available. Right away I ruled out all the CUVs, passenger-car-based crossover utility vehicles, because they wouldn’t be as rugged nor offer the increased ride height and low-range that deep snow or any impromptu off-road excursions might demand.

On the list of available vehicles, those three bright Ivan Stewart-tribute racing stripes of the 2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition really stood out, despite my usual desire for total anonymity. Therefore, the choice became simple: We would ride in the 40th Anniversary 4Runner.

So there we were, loaded to the gunwales with snowboards, goretex, and prime northern European goose down, off on another adventure.

The 40th Anniversary 4Runner commemorates four decades of this most quintessential canyon cruiser, a build that began in 1983 when Toyota slapped a shell on its Hilux pickup truck and launched a legend. In the intervening four decades and five models, the 4Runner quickly became the go-to, reliable, capable, practical and even comfortable off-road-conquering choice among weekend warriors, long before “Overlanding” became a manbun-wearing yuppie curse word.

2023 toyota 4runner 40th anniversary edition
The 40th Anniversary 4Runner rides on 265/70 R17 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires built for quiet comfort on the pavement. If you’re planning to go off road, as you should, you might want to step up to an A/T, R/T or even an M/T tire.Mark Vaughn

You might have some stories of adventure in the wilds with a 4Runner. Share them in the comments below. I have always appreciated the 4R, especially during my offroad-every-weekend phase a few years ago. This model, though a bit long in the tooth at 11 years old, still does the job and does it well.

There are a few minor drawbacks to an 11-year-old model that you forget are there if you drive modern cars all the time: Visibility felt to me a little lacking, especially over the driver’s left and right shoulders, resulting in at least one close-call lane change; the headlights don’t go on automatically; the rear axle is rigid, not independent; and there is no crawl control except that which is available through the gearing. All those can be addressed by either paying attention or sucking it up. The only serious shortcoming I would address if I owned this would be to install some meatier A/T or R/T tires for better and safer offroading.

snowboard
Not my design. I stole it from van Gogh.Mark Vaughn

Tires on my rig were Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684IIs, which Bridgestone says have the following as their “Top 3 Features:” Fuel Efficiency, Quiet Ride, and Ride Comfort. The stock tires were quiet on the open highway where we put down most of our 1000-or-so-mile round trip adventure, but were a little less grippy than I’d have liked in the snow. Switching to 4WD was as easy as twisting the center-console-mounted knob to either 4 HI or 4 LO and off we went through deeper powder.

And while we were at altitude for most of this trip, I’d also like more power and torque than the 270 hp and 278 lb-ft output of the 4Runner’s 4.0-liter naturally aspirated V6, something you can’t really address unless you want to go to the aftermarket. I actually tried using premium fuel on one tankful just to see if it made a difference. I don’t think it did.

The next 4Runner likely won’t be out until at least the 2024 model year, when it may or may not get the 2.4-liter turbo-four now offered in the Lexus NX. That engine delivers 275 hp and 318 lb-ft of torque in its current application, a 40-lb-ft increase over the current model, enough to (possibly) erase my whining.

Oh, and the fuel mileage was never really great. I found myself straddling the official EPA combined figure of 17 mpg, with one tank at 16 mpg and one at 19. But I wasn’t exactly driving slowly.

The rest of the time, the 4Runner was more than up to the task. With the back seats folded down you can get 90 cubic feet of cargo capacity, more than enough for all your gear. With three people present, we folded 60% of the back seats down and found room aplenty for boards and bags.

The 40th Anniversary Edition is based on the SR5 Premium package, which comes fairly well loaded with everything from Apple Carplay/Android Auto (though not wireless) to satellite radio, three USB ports, and a WiFi hot spot. You also get automatic cruise control with lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, and even heated front seats, which proved welcome in the cold. This rig comes with a few 40th Anniversary touches like special badges and stitching and a cute decal silhouette of all five models stamped on the inside of the tailgate.

There are eight 4Runner models available now, from the SR5 for around $40k to the TRD Pro for under $55k. This 40th Anniversary Edition stickers for $47,705.

Until the 2024 comes out with its better engine, you can enjoy the retro pinstriping and traction-capable joys of this current model. But hurry, they’re only making 4040 of them.

Do you have any winter offroading stories to share with a Toyota 4Runner? Please comment below.